RONIN ISLAND #1 by Greg Pak and Giannis Milonogiannis
Layered with intrigue and detail, RONIN ISLAND #1 by Greg Pack and Giannis Milonogiannis is an ornate first issue. The new BOOM! Studios series -- about an island community of warriors and survivors who face off with a monstrous enemy -- is utterly satisfying.
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Elegant and Exciting

The term “Ronin” describes a samurai without a lord or master. The vagrant samurai typically wandered throughout Japan during the country’s feudal period. Therefore, Greg Pak’s powerful new comic RONIN ISLAND has a fitting name. After all, it depicts a community of warriors without a homeland. The elegantly rendered Boom! Studios comic launches a hair-raising adventure series that is equal parts folklore and action comic. After a mysterious evil destroys the major cities of China, Korea, and Japan, the survivors live together on an island. Giannis Milonogiannis’ artwork masterfully depicts the diverse community, from young samurai Kenichi’s glorious armor to his rival Hana’s tattered clothes.

RONIN ISLAND #1 explores what happens when different communities, socioeconomic classes, ages, and genders are forced together. Indeed, Kenichi and Hana may be childhood rivals. Yet, as RONIN ISLAND#1 unfolds, they realize they have bigger problems than who is teacher’s pet. Pak brilliantly balances these elements in a concise and entertaining comic. Indeed, fans of stories like Momotaro (Peach Boy) will gravitate to RONIN ISLAND for its lush storytelling and illustration. However, the comic offers excitement for all.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

RONIN ISLAND #1: A Striking Narrative

Although a good underdog story is hardly new, Pak reinvigorates the trope in RONIN ISLAND #1. Indeed, he brilliantly establishes several themes without losing the comic’s energy. For example, Pak’s protagonists Kenichi and Hana come from very different backgrounds. Kenichi is the son of a famous Japanese warrior. Hana is an orphaned Korean farmer. Despite competing over who’s the best warrior on the island, they share a deep drive to protect their small community. Effortlessly, Pak crafts this dynamic while building intensity as an emissary arrives with frightening news.

RONIN ISLAND #1 neatly packs in an incredibly detailed cast of characters and plot. Luckily, the concise dialogue expertly moves the story forward. However, Pak doesn’t give everything away. Instead, his characters force readers to pay close attention. On the surface, Hana and Kenichi are both likable teens. But both are more complex than first appearances suggest. Hana is entertainingly scrappy and quick witted. Readers immediately want to know more about her life as an orphan farmer. Kenichi is more stoic, clearly wanting to live up to his father’s reputation. How Kenichi’s father died, how his family stayed rich, and why he dislikes Hana, are questions for future issues.

Political Metaphors of RONIN ISLAND

Additionally, the setting brings up a theme of cultural difference. It is unclear if Pak will directly explore the history of cultural conflicts between China, Korea, and Japan. However, in particular, commentary on the conflict between Korea and Japan seems to run throughout the comic. Pak’s main characters come from two countries that share a long and contentious history. The violent colonization and annexation of Korea by Japan between the late 1800’s and early 1900’s caused long-term damage. Indeed, Japanese imperialism divided Japanese and Korean people into different economic classes and eroded Korean culture and identity.

In RONIN ISLAND, Pak explores the aftermath of a world in which Japan and Korea no longer exist. Protagonists Hana and Kenichi might serve as representations of their two countries of origin in a potential post-colonial landscape. Metaphorically at least, Pak’s combination of protagonists suggests a powerful political point.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Capturing Characters with Key Details

Pak’s outstanding storytelling becomes all the more enjoyable when paired with Milonogiannis’ artwork. Milonogiannis fills the pages’ details. For example, Hana’s clothing is worn, with patches everywhere. Kenichi’s father’s armor is impressive, but dull by comparison to that worn by the Shogun’s general. The world surrounding these characters is just as vivid, with diverse ecology and architecture.

Milonogiannis’ style resembles the artwork of Hayao Miyazaki but is more grounded in reality. There are sketchy lines and dirt on the characters’ faces, which emphasize the community’s efforts to survive. RONIN ISLAND’s art shows off the island’s persistence in the face of calamity. However, the comic is far from doom and gloom.

Milonogiannis skillfully adds humor and feeling through characters’ facial expressions and body language. For example, as Kenichi and Hana face off, Hana bests Kenichi with a few tricks up her sleeve. Her mentor Ito laughs, grins, and cajoles as he watches. When things on the island become more serious, Milonogiannis changes the tone. Faces darken, the perspective in each frame becomes skewed with high-angles and intense shadows. As a result, RONIN ISLAND #1 successfully captures a vast array of emotions, creating empathy for the characters.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Reimagining Traditional Tales

In many Japanese folktales, the Oni — monstrous ogre-like creatures — play the role of antagonist. Chinese literature features Oni as well, though to a less dramatic degree. Similarly, Korean literature has monsters called Dokkaebi. Drawing from these traditions, Pak’s comic introduces a group of zombie ogres that descend on the island. And Milonogiannis ensures that these creatures are quite ferocious. The inclusion of the Dokkaebi/Oni-esque monsters gives RONIN ISLAND #1 a link to traditional folklores. Interestingly, Pak’s eponymous island is home to a community of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese people. This suggests that Pak might draw from all of these cultures’ traditions as RONIN ISLAND progresses.

Ultimately, Milonogiannis’ forceful artistic style supports Pak’s writing instincts, creating an exceptional comic. If future issues of RONIN ISLAND maintain the same quality, the series is sure to be a triumph.

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